“We Still Have Room for Improvement”: Todor Matsanov On Bulgarian Social Drama Hristo

By Zuzana Sotáková

    One young homeless boy’s persistent fight to have an ordinary life is the subject of Hristo, the feature debut by Bulgarian co-directors Todor Matsanov and Grigor Lefterov. 

    Awarded at the 34th Golden Rose Film Festival in Varna, this intense social dramaalso screened last week in the 1-2 Competition for first and second features at the 32nd Warsaw Film Festival.

    Prior to his film receiving the FIPRESCI Youth Prize, awarded by a jury of participants in the FIPRESCI Warsaw Critics Project, we spoke to Matsanov on achieving an intimate fiction, delivering his and his co-director’s vision, and the future of Bulgarian cinema.

    Zuzana Sotáková: Hristo is yours and Grigor Lefterov’s feature debut. It portrays its arduous topic through intimate storytelling.

    Todor Matsanov: Grigor started the project of a documentary with a homeless boy nicknamed Macarena. Finally, the documentary was not finished, but it was so inspirational, that we made the decision to transform it into a more fictional film.

    It was really important for us to take action with Hristo by filming longer scenes than in documentaries, to underline that special impression. As well, it was important not let our cameraman know what we would follow. To keep it a little bit chaotic.  

    The film is about Bulgarian society and the broken social support for those who are the most vulnerable, but alongside that there is a universal story, which can happen in other countries too.

    For me, good cinema is when you are trying to take something from your local place and put it into a more universal sense. So this was really important to me. For sure, this story can be an example of an existence of bigger problems, due to political and systematic difficulties. And they are in some way visible. I think it is not a problem of Bulgaria, it is a problem of other countries like ours. It is also a good story to be told. Cinema has the strength to ask difficult questions, not to be just for fun.

    What was your biggest struggle in terms of delivering your vision to the audience?  

    The hardest part was to keep a balance between non-actors and actors, because we had both of them in the film. We wanted we, as directors and screenwriters, to not be visible. We wanted to be behind and not to be shown in any action of the film. It was very hard to work with the main protagonist Dimitar Nikolov and the second main character acted by Dimitar Krumov. Because they did not have a background of homeless people, they never had such an experience in their life and suddenly were placed in such circumstances during the whole period of the film. It was hard for them to find themselves in such a position. Krumov even refused to play Vancha at the beginning. We had to encourage him, that he is the one who should play this role. But then he made a great job.

    This year’s Warsaw Film Festival also delivered another strong film from Bulgaria, Godless. However, Bulgarian cinema was, in the not so distant past, dealing with several deep social problems, as were other countries in Eastern and Central Europe.

    It was really not good in Bulgaria for a long time. The situation can be similar as in other countries. We did not have many movies and the cinematography was not productive at all. Luckily, now we can see an uprising of Bulgarian movies. More and more productions are made, but though it is not the same situation as in Romania. Our movement is not so strong yet, but at least we have some, maybe three or four, productions that are successful at European festivals and that received awards. But those films are floating in the same mood. They are showing problematic cases from Bulgaria, but they are not very optimistic ones. Those which are successful are going in the same direction, so far. We are moving very slowly, we are not developing fast, and we still have room for improvement.